Pitt football coaches placing emphasis on matchups this season

Jerry DiPaola
| Monday, Oct. 21, 2013, 10:42 p.m.

College football has become such a diverse sport that Pitt's leading tackler one week can't even get on the field the next.

Outside linebacker Todd Thomas led the Panthers with 12 tackles against Virginia Tech and its conventional, pro-style offense Oct. 12.

When Old Dominion showed up at Heinz Field last Saturday with a quarterback who ended up throwing 53 times — the most, by far, for a Pitt opponent this season — Thomas played only on special teams.

“You would think you would be rewarded for playing such a good game with more playing time,” ESPN college football analyst John Congemi said. “But it goes back to matchups and body types.”

Pitt coach Paul Chryst and defensive coordinator Matt House decided to play five and six defensive backs against ODU's Taylor Heinicke. That left Thomas on the bench, but Chryst said it was more strategic than any dissatisfaction with the player.

“I'm happy with the way Todd has progressed,” he said. “I'm not saying he didn't fit. I think it's our job to make sure we put players in positions to be most successful.

“It's week-to-week stuff.”

Now, fast-forward to Pitt's next two games at Navy on Saturday and Georgia Tech Nov. 2. The Midshipmen and Yellow Jackets play ground-oriented, option offenses that treat the forward pass almost like it's against the rules. Navy (3-3) averages 304.2 rushing yards per game; Georgia Tech (4-3, 3-2) leads the ACC with 304.4.

Pitt's defense is allowing an average of 136 yards on the ground, fifth in the ACC.

“Todd will probably deserve an ice bath over the next couple weeks,” Congemi said, “because he will be asked to play more in the run (schemes).”

Chryst didn't make that promise, but he is aware that coaching staffs must make regular adjustments to keep up with the different offenses that dot the college football landscape.

“It's been happening for a while now,” he said. “A lot of people are doing a lot of different things. It does make each week of preparation its own entity.

“That's where it's hard. You clean up one thing, and that's against one style, and some weeks not much carries over.

“Other weeks there are more direct carryovers. Good football coaches are adjusting to the people they have.”

Chryst has noticed one similarity: “There are 11 guys on each side,” he said. “Unless you play north of the border, you get 12.”

Congemi said the game wasn't as diverse when he played quarterback at Pitt in the mid-1980s.

“It's night and day,” he said. “When you look back at the ‘70s, ‘80s and a little bit in the ‘90s, there were only a couple of teams that liked to spread it out.”

Congemi pointed to Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday, who attempted 89 passes last Saturday in a 62-38 loss to Oregon.

“It may have taken five weeks for a quarterback (in his day) to do that,” he said.

On the flip side, Navy has thrown only 74 passes in six games, Georgia Tech an ACC-low 111 in seven.

“The next two weeks, it's totally different than anything we've seen,” Chryst said.

NOTES: The Navy game kicks off at 1 p.m. and will be televised on the CBS Sports Network. ... The Georgia Tech game will begin at 7 p.m. and be televised on ESPNU.

Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jdipaola@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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